Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

1.21.2011

Hints of Loki . . .

After-the-fact subtitle: Or, Thoughts on Trolling, Part I

Other: So what you are saying is we have to disagree to disagree.

Me: :-) As the nature of my argument may have indicated, I'm much more interested in the debate itself than in reaching any definitive conclusion. The more you say, the better I understand where you're coming from, the better we'll communicate and get along regardless of agreement or disagreement.

Soon after typing that as part of a dialogue in the comments on Facebook, I had a minor epiphany. I was reflecting on the fact that I enjoy a good (civil) argument and often find myself stirring them up, and some recent thoughts clicked in line as to perhaps why.

Recently I read a book narrated by a high functioning girl with Asperger's. It's the kind of book described as giving you a glimpse into a different mind; for me, though, it didn't feel so foreign because I found myself largely able to relate to the character. By relate I don't mean to imply I think I have Asperger's (although a friend has told me that when we first started hanging out some of my social awkwardness struck her as almost Asperger's-like), but I did recognize in her some things about myself to a much lesser degree. She was naturally good with facts, knowledge, and objective information, and especially bad with emotion, empathy, and social interaction. Her natural tendencies were the same as mine (see the second paragraph here), just more extreme. More importantly, her teachers and loved ones invested a lot of time teaching her about facial expressions and social cues, and after much hard work she was able to make improvement. In some of the same ways I've spent a lifetime coaching myself away from the social awkwardness that comes from being a shy, analytical, nerdy type--I recognized their strategies because I've used them myself.

A lot of it is careful observation, learning to recognize repeated patterns. One of the Myers-Briggs INTJ descriptions I identify with says:

. . . many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation . . . Probably the strongest INTJ assets in the interpersonal area are their intuitive abilities and their willingness to "work at" a relationship. Although as Ts they do not always have the kind of natural empathy that many Fs do, the Intuitive function can often act as a good substitute by synthesizing the probable meanings behind such things as tone of voice, turn of phrase, and facial expression. This ability can then be honed and directed by consistent, repeated efforts to understand and support those they care about . . .

I think that captures it really well, and I've spent a lifetime working at figuring out the whole empathy and social ritual stuff that didn't come naturally to me. People who've only met me the past few years rarely describe me as shy anymore, although I still have my awkward moments.

The epiphany came in trying to figure out how I feel about having recently been told I was a "troll" by a few friends. I was at first offended because I associate the term with intentional maliciousness, but they clarified they just meant I like to provoke reactions. After a bit of self-reflection, I had to acknowledge that I do. I never intend harm or to be a jerk, but I do like to be somewhat mischievous, play devil's advocate, and stir things up a bit. That's my Loki instinct.

The next question was, Why? It wasn't until after I wrote it, but I realized I spelled it out for myself in that Facebook comment. I'm a trial-and-error learner in many ways. I think provoking reactions is a subconscious strategy I developed somewhere along the way for learning social mores and boundaries. I learn people by pushing different buttons, seeing what happens, and filing the information away to give me a better handle on who they are and what makes them tick. It's never a conscious, deliberate thing, but I automatically make a study of anyone I seriously interact with. If they're not forthcoming enough with helpful behavior to study, some part of me apparently goes looking to create it. And it's become a habit.

I think. Maybe. That's probably just bad pop psychology, but it makes a certain kind of sense to me. Now I must study it in practice from this new perspective to see if it stands up to ongoing scrutiny.

-----

Side note: As I was pondering this post in my head, planning to write it after having dinner, I came across an editorial in the paper that intrigued me. I don't often find myself in agreement with Brooks and am not on board with everything he says here, but I think I have to say I like his basic premise. It seems relevant to my meditation above.

Amy Chua Is a Wimp - “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” may denounce soft American-style parenting, but its author shelters her children from the truly arduous experiences necessary to achieve.

. . . I have the opposite problem with Chua. I believe she’s coddling her children. She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t.

Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.

Yet mastering these arduous skills is at the very essence of achievement. Most people work in groups. . . .

5 Comments:

At 1/21/2011 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice self-analysis. Not many people bother to consider how they interact with others and why.
JK
word verification: bowledom

 
At 1/22/2011 12:54 AM, Blogger Degolar said...

Thanks

 
At 1/22/2011 11:53 AM, Blogger Degolar said...

Some pieces of an email exchange with someone about this post:

Me: It's not a clinical, dispassionate thing, but a warm, invested thing. It's learning how to be the best friend possible. It's not an analytical game, but figuring out how to put caring and love into action. It's accepting people for who they are, which can't happen until you know who they are, and embodied curiosity for finding out even more about them.

Them: I will say this. I enjoy talking with you because we can banter or argue, and it's just that. I know in most cases I can say what I want and not have to deal with all the voices in my head saying, oh, he might think that, or that was wrong, or so on, and in most cases just talk. I, too, learn more when I can do that. And you can't with most people. Or in most situations. One of the reasons I keep you around. ;)

Them: I also know you accept me with all my faults. That's a very good and freeing thing. Again, don't feel that most people do that.

Me: Someone said almost the exact same thing to me recently, that I'm the only person who makes them feel accepted enough to really be themself around me without embarrassment or fear. I'm not sure I can think of anything I'd consider a higher compliment.

Me: I think provoke and antagonize are two different things, so I hope it always comes across as playful and fun (even though I know it sometimes doesn't). It's not so much about analyzing as having enough data to synthesize patterns--I can tell through repeated experience that if I do such it makes this person happy and if I do such it makes this person sad, so now I can make sure to provide lots of the happy thing and either avoid or help improve the sad thing. And once someone is my friend and we're spending lots of time together there's no need to provoke anything because it happens anyway through conversation and everyday interaction. But there's no judgment in any of it--it's not determining the good or bad in a person, merely who they are.

 
At 1/22/2011 10:14 PM, Blogger princessmaidenwarrior said...

I think you're great the way you are. Debating is fun, as long as it is friendly, and you are very respectful and considerate. I wish I had the amount of knowledge you do in so many subjects.

 
At 1/23/2011 9:28 AM, Blogger Degolar said...

:-)

 

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